KYIV, Ukraine – Journalists fill a small courtroom in kyiv for the trial of a captured Russian soldier accused of killing a Ukrainian civilian early in the war – the first of dozens of war crimes cases that Ukraine’s chief prosecutor said his office was prosecuting.
While the trial of the 21-year-old Russian Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin drove off in the capital as Russian forces suffered heavy casualties in a Ukrainian attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross a river to the east, Ukrainian and British officials said in another sign of Moscow’s struggle to save a war gone wrong.
Ukraine’s Airborne Command released photos and video of what it said was a damaged Russian pontoon bridge over the Siversky Donets River in Bilohorivka and at least 73 destroyed or damaged Russian military vehicles nearby.
The UK Ministry of Defense said Russia lost “significant armored maneuver elements” of at least one battalion tactical group in the attack. A Russian battalion tactical group consists of approximately 1,000 soldiers.
“Conducting river crossings in a contested environment is a very risky maneuver and speaks to the pressure on Russian commanders to advance their operations in eastern Ukraine,” the ministry said in its daily update. information.
In other developments, a decision by Finland and, potentially, Sweden to join NATO was called into question when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “not of a favorable opinion” to the idea. He accused Sweden and other Scandinavian countries of supporting Kurdish militants and others whom Turkey considers terrorists.
Erdogan did not say outright that he would prevent the two nations from joining NATO. But the military alliance makes decisions by consensus, meaning each of its 30 member countries has a veto over who can join.
A NATO expansion would be a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who went to war in what he said was an attempt to thwart the alliance’s eastward advance. But in the wake of Ukraine’s invasion, other countries on Russia’s flank fear they may be next.
As the Russian offensive in Donbass, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine, seems to be turning more and more into a bitter war of attrition and Ukraine demands more weapons to repel the Russians better equipped, the head of foreign affairs of the European Union has announced its intention to give kyiv a 500 million euros (520 million dollars) to buy heavy weapons.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov hailed the heavy weapons heading for the front lines, but admitted there was no quick end to the war in sight.
“We are entering a new long-term phase of the war,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “Extremely difficult weeks lie ahead. How many will there be? No one can say for sure.
The battle for Donbass has turned into a back-and-forth village by village with no major breakthrough on either side and little ground gained. In his late night address Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said no one can predict how long the war will last, but his country’s forces have made progress, including retaking six Ukrainian towns or villages in the last daytime.
Heavy fighting took place on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, said Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst. The Ukrainian army launched counterattacks but failed to halt Russia’s advance, he said.
“The fate of a large part of the Ukrainian army is being decided – there are around 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers,” he said.
Ukraine’s military chief of the Luhansk region in Donbass said on Friday that troops had taken almost full control of Rubizhne, a town that had a population of around 55,000 before the war.
In the crumbling southern port of Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters locked in a steel mill have faced continuous Russian attacks on the last stronghold of resistance in the city. Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Ukrainian Azov regiment, said his troops will hold out “as long as they can” despite shortages of ammunition, food, water and medicine.
And in kyiv, Ukrainian soldiers dressed in white protective suits loaded the bodies of Russian soldiers into refrigerated wagons on Friday. The bodies were wrapped in white body bags and stacked several layers deep.
Colonel Volodymyr Lyamzin, who oversaw the operation, said several hundred bodies were stored on trains in the capital and there were several other storage trains elsewhere in the country. He said Ukraine was ready to hand over the bodies to Russia, but so far there has been no agreement to do so.
In the first war crimes case to come to trial, Shyshimarin could face life in prison if convicted of shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian in the head through an open car window in a village in the northeast region of Sumy on February 28, four days after the invasion.
The defendant, dressed in a blue and gray hoodie and gray sweatpants, sat in a small glass cage during the proceedings, which lasted around 15 minutes and will resume on Wednesday. The trial will be closely monitored by international observers to ensure it is fair.
Shyshimarin was asked a series of questions, including whether he understood his rights and whether he wanted a jury trial. He refused the latter.
His court-appointed lawyer in Ukraine, Victor Ovsyanikov, acknowledged that the case against Shyshimarin is solid and did not say what the soldier’s defense will be.
Shyshimarin, a member of a tank unit that was captured by Ukrainian forces, admitted shooting the civilian in a video released by Ukraine’s Security Service, saying he was ordered to do so.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said she was preparing war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses including bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, raping and looting. She said two accused of bombing civilian infrastructure and residential buildings are in Ukrainian hands. It was unclear how many suspects would be tried in absentia.
Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Jari Tanner in Helsinki, Elena Becatoros in Odessa and other AP staff from around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine